If you are not familiar with FlexRAID, it is essentially an alternative to the traditional RAID and more similar to unRAID, except that it is free. FlexRAID offers a number of benefits over traditional RAID. Currently FlexRAID is a snapshot RAID and not real-time, making it suitable for data that does not change very often (eg. movie/music archive) as you are only able to revert to a state when a snapshot was taken, not the most recent state before disk failure. However, a real-time version of FlexRAID is under development called FlexRAID Live.
FlexRAID Pros v Cons
|Can form a RAID without losing existing data on the disks||Speed limited to the speed of a single disk|
|Array can be expanded without having to rebuild and wipe the array||Entire files are always stored on a single disk, not spanned across multiple|
|Only the disk with the requested data will spin up||Disk load is not balanced|
|Doesn't revolve around entire disks, can be managed at the file/folder level instead|
|Multiplatform (even over a network)|
I put together this guide because I was looking all over the place for a comprehensive, beginning-to-end, guide to running and installing FlexRAID so I could evaluate the software and decide if I wanted to move to FlexRAID for my filestorage.
This guide will take you through the process of installing FlexRAID on a Windows 7 computer. This will include managing the configruation through the WebUI and installing FlexView so that all your drives show up as a single instance of pooled storage. This guide was written when FlexRAID version 1.4 beta was the most up to date release.
FlexRAID Installation (Host, CMD, and WebUI)
- If UAC (user account control) is enabled you must disable it during this installation process but it can be re-enabled afterwards. A guide can be found here.
- Install the FlexRAID Basic Host Service 1.4 with default settings so that it installs FlexRAID as a service.
- Install the FlexRAID CMD client for Windows
- Launch the CMD Client.
- It will prompt you to Connect to: and here you type “localhost“.
- It should connect immediately and leave you with a command prompt where you want to type “view install” to install FlexView. You will see a message saying FlexRAID-View was successfully installed and you can proceed.
- Download and save the WebUI 1.4 beta for Windows client to your Desktop
- Unzip the WebUI folder and move it to C:\FlexRAIDWebUI. You can move it wherever you want, but you need to make sure there are no spaces in the path.
- To launch the WebUI you need to open the folder C:\FlexRAIDWebUI and run start.cmd, this will open a command prompt that will begin to startup the WebUI. The first time you run this you will be prompted by Windows Firewall to Allow access to java.exe, you must click Allow.
- Give the webserver a few moments to start up and then you can type http://localhost:8080 into your browser to bring up the FlexRAID login screen.
- The default login and password are admin, admin
FlexRAID WebUI Configuration
- This is a very good guide by FlexRAID’s author, Brahim, about how to go through configuring a FlexRAID setup through the WebUI, so I will not bother to re-explain these steps. If you have just added hard drives to the computer and they do not show up in the WebUI, you must go into Computer Management>Disk Management to Initialize and Format the disks. The WebUI will only show the disks that are visible in the My Computer window.
- For my setup I am running the T1+ RAID engine and have 2 DRU’s set up, H:\ and I:\ and drive J:\ is the single PPU. I have decided to dedicate entire disks to this array, but one of the features of FlexRAID is the ability to put certain folders in the array if you wanted.
From the other guides I read on the topic, I found this portion to be the most confusing and it took experimenting in order to get it to display the way I had wanted and expected. The official guide can be found here and includes more details and tweaks than I will discuss.
- Open the FlexRAID CMD window, login to “localhost”, and then enter the following 2 commands to install patches to make it work on Windows 7 and then close out of the command window.
- patch install view-sys-patch
- patch install view-cl-patch
- We need to change the permissions of the FlexRAID Host folder so that we can create a View Configuration file. In order to do this. navigate to the OpenEgg directory which by default is “C:\Program Files (x86)\OpenEgg.org” and right click on the “FlexRAID Basic Host Service 1.4” folder and select Properties. Click on the “Security” tab and click “Edit” to change the permissions. Click on Users and check off Allow for the Modify and Write permissions and press Apply.
- Now open the “FlexRAID Basic Host Service 1.4” folder and Right Click>New>Text Document and name this file “ViewConfig”.
- The contents of my ViewConfig.txt file are below. With FlexRAID-View you have to model every folder join that is taking place, even in the sub-folders. This is a simple example, but what is happening is that I have specified drive Z to be the drive that shows up with the specified “virtual” view, using DRU’s H: and I:. Then I go on to model Z: which contains the virtual folders Music and Videos. Then each of those virtual folders are defined below. The syntax for this file can be found in the guide FlexRAID-View guide mentioned above, but for me a simple example really helped get a basic understanding.
The config file below allows me to open the Z: drive and see 2 folders, Music and Videos. The contents of those folders will be a combination of the files and folders found within the respective folders on the H: and I: drives.
Note: FlexRAID View does not manage load balancing the drives or distributing your files in a smart method, but rather all the files you move into a folder will be on your first drive specified, in this case for Videos it is drive H: and then once H: is full it will overflow to drive I:.
DRIVE=Z UNIQUE=H:\;I:\ RESTRICT= RESERVE=2GB THREAD=5 REMOVABLE=false -Z:\ |-<Music> |-<Videos> -Z:\Music |-*H:\Music |-*I:\Music -Z:\Videos |-*H:\Videos |-*I:\Videos
FlexRAID Data Recovery Simulation/Test
Before you decide to transition to FlexRAID it is a good idea to test the recovery to make sure it works and make sure you understand the proper procedure to recover from various failures. I was initially unsure about how to go about these tests but I have documented them below. All my testing is being done with VMWare Workstation so I can easily simulate suddenly disconnecting (eg. failure) and adding disks but the same can be done using physical hardware.
- In order to test a simulated failure, copy some files to the disks you want to be fault resistant.
- Enter the web-ui and run an update to rebuild the parity.
- After the build is complete, disconnect any one of the disks and you will be unable to access the files from the disconnected disk.
- Insert a new disk (or you can just use a new folder on one of the disks if you do not have a spare drive laying around).
- Map the new drive to replace the failed drive.
- In the web-ui, restore the data to the newly added drive.
- If it restores the data that was on the original drive, you are all set.
I hope this was helpful.
NOTE: The author of FlexRaid is working on v2 of the application and from the screenshots on his website it looks like a very sleek new interface. The core part of this guide seems like it will still be applicable, but many of the steps will likely be simplified with the new Web-UI.